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The Difference between Well-Being and Positive Thinking

I recently had a couple in for a weekend retreat. Two women who had been together for 8 years. they had come because they were having trouble connecting with each other. As they began to work with the principles, or natural laws of how the mind works, they both began to settle down and become more present to themselves, to life and to each other. A. saw how her thoughts of being responsible kept her always in her analytical, personal dimension of thought, which distracted her from being in the now. She saw how that level of distraction not only interfered with her relationship – as having a sense of genuine connection arises when we’re truly here – but it actually interfered with her capacity to be responsible. People are most responsive when their minds are calm and clear, not when they’re busy and distracted. It’s much harder to know what’s really going on, what the real priorities are when you’re running habitual thought through your brain.

For M., it was fear that kept her out of the present. I thought it would be helpful to review the Naural Laws that govern psychological functioning, which are: Mind, the source of all experience, a formless energy with a divine intelligence; Thought, which is what we do continually as human beings, and which governs all our experiences including perception, feelings and behaviors; and Consciousness, which is the capacity to be aware of our experiences. As M. reflected in these principles, she too settled down and became present. Then what arose in her was grief. M. had been struggling for a long time with chronic illness, and waves of sadness were arising naturally from the losses that illness has caused for her. She cried for some time and then became quiet. After a break and a rest, her sense of well- being returned and she was ready for what would come next.

This event raised questions about her partner. “If learning about these Natural Laws allows us to become more present, and if being more present puts you in touch with feelings of calm and well-being, why did M. get sad when her mind settled down?”

This is a great question – one that comes up a lot for people, as they confuse presence with positive thinking. It’s true that when you become calm and come into the present, a sense of well-being naturally arises. If we live there enough of the time, we regularly experience some of the deeper feelings in life – gratitude, joy, creativity and love. It’s also true, however, that life brings us many experiences, some of which are sad. When those experiences happen, people often have sad thoughts and feelings. When those feelings pass, your mind will settle down again. Usually you will have a sense of peacefulness, and eventually with a calm mind that innate sense of well-being will arise once again.

This is very different from positive thinking, which implies that people are supposed to be happy all the time. Being present does mean that you will have much more calm, and common sense, have a feeling of purposefulness and being on track with life, and often feel secure and happy. But all of those feelings are reflections of the thoughts that arise naturally when our personal minds move into the background and we become receptive to this other, more universal dimension of Thought.

You can feel it when you begin experiencing this other dimension of Thought – it’s qualitatively different from personal thought It has a sense of ease, a flowing quality, a calm feeling to it, whereas personal thoughts do not come with these deeper feelings. When we’re in personal thought our feeling state is usually neutral, but if we stay there too long, without touching into calm and well-being, feelings of stress usually occur, and these can lead to experiences of anxiety and eventually depression.

Positive thinking, on the other hand, is in the realm of personal thought. When people’s thoughts are uncomfortable or causing them pain, they think of positive versions of those same thoughts. Your personal mind is using its memory to come up with better versions of what it’s thinking. This is why positive thinking is limited in its applications: personal mind is limited, whereas universal mind is not. More importantly, you’re thinking on the same level of consciousness that you started with. Sometimes it works for a while, but usually not for very long, and most people experience it as a lot of hard work, especially if you’re using it to try to deal with a mental state that is painful for you. You are using your limited, personal mind and will rather than allowing this larger, deeper dimension of Thought to do its job.

M. and A. found that as their minds settled down and became quieter, it became more clear what they had been thinking, without realizing it, that was causing stress and keeping them from being calm and settled in their minds. They saw how that kept them from connecting with each other – not so much any of their issues, but their lack of natural connection due to their mental distractions. As they became more calm and settled with themselves, they naturally began to feel a stronger sense of connection with each other. From that place of calm and well- being, many things that appeared to be obstacles to intimacy melted away, while at the same time solutions to problems began to arise naturally out of their connection with each other.

Intimacy and connection are easy when people are able to really be with each other, rather than in the many stories, habits, complaints and other stressors brought on by too much personal thought. We don’t have to think positively to have a good life or a good relationship – in fact ultimately manipulating our thinking only adds more stress and a feeling of a lack of genuineness. Everyone has the capacity to tap into a dimension of Thought that is unlimited, full of wisdom and insight, and the deeper feelings we all long for in life. Learning about these Natural Laws will bring you there.

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